Games, Rules, Courtesy, and Cheating

I’m a competitive person by nature. I’ve always loved playing games, but–here’s the confession–I’ve loved winning them more. I don’t typically play to just have a fun time. I have difficulty turning off the desire to win, even when I really should be able to. I’d play a lot of games growing up–against my siblings or my cousins or my friends–and the goal was always the same: win.

I don’t consider myself to be a sore winner or loser. Once the game is over, I tend to calm down fairly quickly, unless it was a really close game. In that case, it takes me some time to get a return to normalcy. Even while the game is going on, I usually am enjoying myself–again, unless it’s a really close game. The more I become invested in a game, the more I start focusing on winning at all costs.

And there’s the question for the day: where do I draw the line for “at all costs”? I don’t cheat. For me, the only way to win the game is by winning by the rules. But I’m really a stickler to those rules, and sometimes that gets me into trouble.

The thing is, often the person who wins any game is the person who understands the rules most completely. I’ve always been a person who lives and dies by the rulebook. If someone pulls out a rule that gives them advantage–and they can prove it in the book–then I’ve considered that to trump my objections. This is sometimes the hardest part of a game to face. I remember a few years ago when I was playing Settlers of Catan and used a settlement to break up someone else’s longest road. They were convinced that didn’t matter–that settlements couldn’t break longest roads. I showed the part in the rules where it said otherwise.

The result wasn’t pretty. (Probably because by breaking that road, I gave myself the longest road, and thereby the win.)

So what do you do when the person you’re playing against doesn’t understand the rules of the game you’re playing. This is where I get myself into hot water sometimes. See, I like playing games against other people. Playing against myself just doesn’t have the same thrill. But if I have to help another person too much, then it feels too much like I’m just playing solitaire. There’s a fine line, then, between helping my opponent and biting my tongue to let them lose. Because on the other hand, how much fun is it to win if I only win because they didn’t understand what in the world they were doing?

In an ideal world, what I do is explain the rules fully and properly, and then answer any question they might have as accurately as I can, but let them play from there on out. This seems cut and dried, but I had a situation the other night where I was playing in an MTG draft. My opponent was misplaying, and I knew it. He/she was also beating me soundly, despite the fact that I felt like I was the better player. I was faced with a decision: should I explain what the proper rules were, as the better player? Or should I just let my opponent misplay.

Since I was getting trounced, I allowed the misplays to continue. I feel fairly guilty about it now, actually. Looking back on it, I think the right thing for me to have done would have been to note that the rules weren’t being carried out the right way, and then to explain what the right way was. After that, I could have just continued to play without feeling guilty. If mistakes were made, I’d know they wouldn’t have been because of anything I was doing.

Of course, because karma is a thing, that first game went far too long, and although I won the second game (without needing misplays by my opponent to save me), there wasn’t enough time for a game 3. I ended up getting a draw instead of a win or loss. I’m fairly confident that game 3 would have gone in my favor. I had a stronger deck and had sideboarded well, and I knew what was going on in my opponent’s deck well enough that–barring getting really unlucky–I should have taken it easily. But because I’d bit my tongue, I didn’t have time to eke out a win.

But still, how do you decide when your opponent didn’t know enough? In my game of Catan, I won due to a rules question. My opponent had no idea that rule existed, and so he played one way. I knew about it, and so I played another. By the end of the game, so much of our strategies had depended upon our individual knowledge of the rules. There was no way to “take it back.” If we played without the rule, I would have lost. Playing with it, I won. Neither side could really feel good about his victory or loss.

The answer, of course, is to not take games so darned seriously. But since I don’t appear to be able to do that, I’m not sure if there really is an answer. And so I almost always fall back on the rules. I rarely care about who wins or loses the first three or four times I play any game. The rules aren’t defined enough in my mind to be able to expect to win by skill. But once both sides have played a game a fair bit, then I think it’s up to each side to know the rules and play by them. You correct infractions as they arise, but I see my opponent making some really dumb strategy errors–and they’ve played the game a bit–then I let them make them, since I know they know the rules.

Who knew playing a simple game could be so complex?

Any serious board gamer, that’s who.

How about you? Do you game? What do you do when you come across tricky situations like these?

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